By Sharmini Serasinghe –
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it” – Aung San Suu Kyi
The Rajapaksas’ moment of glory has passed. The sheen on the “We won the war” badge has now faded. The golden moment that presented itself post-2009 to ‘right’ the ‘wrongs’ of the past is now lost. The lack of a political vision, direction and leadership of a country emerging from the quagmire of a protracted bloody civil war is tragic, to say the least.
Ineptitude at governance and corruption at all levels has become synonymous with the hyped – up cognomen of the High and Mighty; and their senseless rhetoric has turned out to be just that- senseless. Their vision and direction appears to be focused only on one thing- to augment their power, personal glory and fortune, while steering the country on a downward course. To sum it all up, their bull-in-a-china-shop method of governance would appear comic, if it wasn’t for them taking us and the country back to a tragic era, none of us ever want to revisit.
Thus in such a despairing scenario where all is lost and the hunger for power persists, then what do such ‘legitimate desperados’ do to keep the gullible voting masses awed for a while longer, at least until the next ‘defining’ election? The challenge here for the demagogues appears to be monumental, but is it?
There is the voter who thinks through his belly, therefore his plate of rice. So, in the absence of a costly war there is no valid excuse anymore to lay the blame on the war for the ceaseless and regular rises in costs of living, rendering the voter constantly hungry. Therefore it’s imperative to keep him happy, for his loyalty at the ballot-box depends on how full his belly is. Thus the demagogues now need to resort to measures to keep the voter adequately distracted from his hunger pangs and ensure that the all important vote is cast in the ‘right’ direction again.
However there is one trick left in the bag, a time tested and a very effective one at that- the age-old political gimmick which thus far has not failed to yield results – Buddhism.
Lanka’s politicians since time immemorial, have used and abused Buddhism for political mileage, making it almost a tradition in the local political spectrum! After all what is Buddhism to these demagogues anyway, since for them, nothing is sacred except power! And true to form, they latch on to the sacred Saffron robe once again.
But this time, with or without knowing it, they are courting Satan and his entourage disguised as Buddhist monks!
In keeping with the need of the hour, and hot on the heels of the infamous ‘Grease Yakkas’ who disappeared as fast as they appeared, out pops a gang of miscreants masquerading as Buddhist monks all wrapped up in Saffron Robes and topped with shaven heads. Could they be the same ‘Grease Yakkas’, in different garb and a different modus operandi?
However this time around, these miscreants have been ingenious in choosing their uniform- the sacred Saffron robe. Once draped in it, the possibilities are endless. For they know, the power this sacred garment of Buddhist monks wields over the average voting majority. They can thus be hoodwinked into anything, as long as it is said and done in the name of Buddhism. This is the ultimate weapon to rally the masses behind them- for better or for worse!
For the demagogues, these Saffron-robed ‘mouthpieces’ can be extremely useful at times. For they can be seen and heard, saying and doing things with credibility, that the demagogues cannot be ‘seen to be doing’ as it will not be deemed ‘politically correct’. Thus overtly the demagogues are ‘seen and heard’ sermonizing the merits of ethno-religious harmony and other such platitudes which are ‘politically correct’, while covertly allowing full rein to the terror instincts of a few Saffron-robed rebels. Or else, how does one explain the obvious carte blanche enjoyed by these ‘monks’ to run amok with such impunity.
So what might we have next, every Tom, Dick and Harry donning the Saffron robe and flexing their muscles? Will all murderers, rapists, drug peddlers et al now start masquerading as Buddhist monks in order to evade the law, if they are not already doing so? Will we have yet another JVP-style insurrection, this time by disgruntled youth disguised as Buddhist monks? After all, the law enforcement authorities have proven beyond doubt that the law does not apply to those in Saffron robes. Just imagine the horrors in the offing if this menace is not arrested!
Little does the rural voter realise that these ‘monks’ are not ‘swaminwahanses’ from the village temple. They cannot see beyond the Saffron robe to understand that these ‘monks’ are nothing but a group of extremist rabble-rousers hell bent on wreaking havoc. For these ‘monks’ are precisely that; elements of frustrated youth who have been marking time for the opportune moment to ignite the tinderbox of yet another protracted war- this time with religious undertones.
Now that these ‘monks’ have been unleashed with political blessings, the demagogues will soon find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. For there will soon come a day when these ‘monks’ will no longer be willing to ‘go along’ with the elected political leaders of the country. Left unchecked, these yellow-robed ‘rebels’ will eventually ‘take over,’ as they are ‘in it’ for the long haul. Therefore it is just a matter of time before this saga blows up in the faces of those who fanned its flames and ultimately end up with anarchy.
Then what will the demagogues do? Turn their guns on the Buddhist clergy and shoot down the entire lot as in the 70s and 80s JVP insurrections? Will they still expect the Sinhala-Buddhist vote to be cast in their favour after that? If this is to be their downfall, at what cost would it be?
It is indeed disturbing to note that even the young ‘samaneras’ or novice monks are being made to contribute their might to hate speech and vile demonstrations against the ‘other’. These young children who ought to be in school are instead roaming the streets with their older counterparts watching, learning and emulating their elders, demonstrating all that goes against the Buddhist doctrine. What and who are they being trained to grow up to be? What are the national Child Protection Authorities doing about it? Or don’t these children who have been offered/gifted/abandoned/donated to the ‘temple’ come under the purview of such Authorities?
It appears the Rajapaksas are trying to add a new chapter to the Sinhala-Buddhist Fable- the Mahavamsa. And in doing so, they will be taking all of us and the country down with them.
*Sharmini Serasinghe was Director Communications of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) under Secretary Generals Jayantha Dhanapala and Dr. John Gooneratne. She counts over thirty years in journalism in both the print and electronic media.